So I decided to learn about farming

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Seed Saving

Saturday was a great day spent at Everdale Farm  in Hillbough, Ontario (Near… north of Halton Hills). Everdale is an organic teaching farm, you can attend one day classes, take a tour, participate in the the CSA program, or intern for the growing season (6 to 9 months).

In our situation, both Jay and I attended a seed saving class. The class was offered by “Seeds of Diversity”  A Canadian volunteer organization that attempts to conserves the biodiversity and traditional knowledge of food crops and garden plants.

We met some really nice people and learned a bunch… some of the hi-lights:

  1. Seed recognition… what is the seed, the starch (seed food) and seed coat (shell)
  2. Three things that you need to preserve seed… dark, cool/cold, and dry. It is the opposite of what you need to grow… water, light and warm!
  3. seeds can be stored in cold cold environment … frozen even… as long as the are dry. dry seeds should have less than 10% moisture content. Dry means they would shatter if hit by a hammer. If you freeze seeds you may need to warm them gradually… freezer to fridge to room temperature.
  4. Store seeds in glass not plastic jars.
  5. Seeds, if stored well, can be viable for 5 years.
  6. You should collect seeds from the strongest plants that are not diseased
  7. Seeds should be dried on the plant before harvested as it ensures that the seed has collected enough starch (i.e. nutrient or food) until germination.
  8. If you pull and dry the whole plant, the seeds can continue ripening
  9. Some seeds may require a period of dormancy. Typically those seeds are from plants that see 4 seasons. These seeds may need to be tricked into growing by placing them in fridge… they think winter can and now spring, so they germinate.
  10. Some plants require two years to produce seeds… carrots, celery, cabbage, beets and leeks for example. While other plants may require, initially, two years to seed, but then produce seed every year there after… raspberries, and most fruit trees.
  11. In Canada… cus we have frost and cold and snow… you can pull your beets and carrots, then store in sawdust over the winter, and replant in spring to get the the two years required for seed production.

A big part about learning about seed saving is learning where seeds come from and that means pollination…

Some plants are self pollenating, tomatoes are and as such cross pollination is highly unlikely.  The tomato flower is closed and is complete with the male and female parts so no need for bees, wind or other pollinators. For each seed in a tomato, a speck of pollen must be involved. There are 100s of seeds in a tomato… that is a lot of pollen!

To collect tomato seeds (wet seeds), encourage the fruit to rot (mash up in a bucket and put lid on), after about 4 days  wash away the pulp and flesh of the tomato to recover the seeds, dry on a plate. Seeds are heavy and will sink, so you may wish to skim off a top layer of rotting tomato. This process will work for any wet seeds like cukes.

However, many plants due require bees and the like to pollinate. This generally means that their flower is open… like eggplant or squash. Note: beans and peas are a little different. They are half open and have both sexes in the flower. Because there is so little pollen (how many beans/seeds in a pod… 4 or 5 vs a tomato?)  that bees couldn’t be bothered with work it would take to open the flower for such a little a reward. It is unlikely that beans and peas cross pollinate  So eggplant… open flower, both sexes in one plant flower, the bees come along and while trying to get the nectar at the base of the flower carry in pollen and fertilizes the seed. The pollen carried in could be from the eggplant itself, from a different eggplant or from a carrot plant, but the eggplant will not recognize any pollen that is not from its own species. Note: the pollination of the seed is not for the purposes of growing the plant this season… but next year!

Squash… there are 4 species of squash. Within each species a cross can occur, but no cross can occur from species to species

  1. Pumpkin, Zucchini (Latin name Pepo).
  2. Butternut ( (Latin name Moschata)
  3. Hubbard  (Latin name Maxima)
  4. other non edible from South America

If squash have been crossed you will not know till the following year… because it is the seed that has been cross pollened not the fruit. It was explained to me like a mother, father and child. The mother (and father) is the fruit and the seed the offspring… the parents, a pumpkin is crossed with a zucchini…. and the parents don’t change, they are still pumpkins and zukus, but their child… the seed, is the product of both of them. There is no way to know if your squash or zukes have been cross pollinated unless you harvest the seeds and collect them for planting the following year. There is no way to tell from the seed coat if a plant has been crossed.

Tools for seed saving.

  1. Mesh screens, strainer, sieves….
  2. Glass jars
  3. Buckets
  4. Fish bins
  5. Funnels
  6. Little envelopes
  7. Silica (helps dry the last little %s). The silica should be removed after short time.

ever screenUsing screen to remove wheat from husk.

Ever WheatWheat

ever pea

Bob Wildfong from Seeds of Diversity.


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Ontario Native Plants

Out and about with Kim and Raspberry today and saw – in a very small area – lots of things to eat, and maybe some that you shouldn’t!

Used as a spice in food like hummus or or salads. Taste lemony. First Nations used sumac to make a lemonade like drink.

Wild Rose Hips

Don’t know what these berries are… So don’t eat. Fuzzy leaves and berries range in colour from pink to purple (as shown)

Again, I am not sure what these berries are. Might be dogwood… Might not be. Don’t eat unless 1000% sure.

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The Same… But Different

On Monday, June 3, 2013 I spent the day on a “farm within a farm” just north of the village of Rothsay, Ontario. (Thank you ST… your directions were perfect!).

The farm is called “Mapleton’s Organic” It is a very large farm (600 acres…I think), so large that there is a farm within this farm and it is called “Small Holdings” Katie is the farmer for Small Holdings and she specializes in miniature ecologically grown vegetables.

I learned, experienced and realized quite a lot from my day with Katie…

  • Soil Blocking… not only did I learn how to do it,  why it is a preferred method but I also learned a little about the man who invented the concept, Eliot Coleman (note to self – further study required).
  • I learned how to open-up a greenhouse
  • Why the spacing of crops in large fields is important (room for the tractor), as well as the importance of straight rows/beds.
  • That she is growing a variety of peas, pumpkins, onions, broccoli, leafy greens, turnips, rutabagas, herbs and raspberries
  • That corn grows from corn… really… you grow corn from kernels.
  • That most lambs are born in set of twins
  • That you can tell what buildings people are in by whose rubber boots are sitting outside the door (poor etiquette to where muddy boots in buildings… you only make that mistake once).

I also had a tour of Mapleton’s farm. I met the farmer and his family, petted some of the animals, and sampled the wonderfully tasty organic ice cream.  The ice cream is made exclusively from the 70 dairy cows on this farm, which are fondly referred to as the “The Ladies”.

Katie's Corn

Corn Kernels

Katie's Field

Small Holdings Field

Katie's Green

Seedlings and soil blocking in the greenhouse

Katie's Pumpkins

Katie’s mini pumpkins

Katie's Calf

Mapleton’s calf… one day she will grow up to be a “Lady”.

Katie’s farm is rural, large (1 acre on 600 acre farm) with a small greenhouse (10×25).While Amy’s farm (Red Pocket) is urban, 1/4 acre… small, with a large green house (50×100)… it is the same but different!

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On April 6 and 7, 2013, I participated in Ecological Farmers of Ontario Association’s “Essentials to Ecological Agriculture” course, because this mission would not be complete without a formal education component.

The course was a basic introduction to the principles of organic farming…. not certified organic.  I learned about weed control, soil biology (surprisingly because of my on-site knowledge I already knew quite a bit… thank you Ahmed), crop rotation, manure managementbio-dynamic agriculture, and that you cannot follow tomatoes with potatoes… well you can, but you might not have much success.

I also now know what “SCC” means – this is important to know if you consume raw milk products – SCC means “Somatic Cell Count”, and it is an indicator of the milk quality.  The SCC will increase as a response to pathogenic bacteria, a cause of mastitis (i.e. the cow is not well… don’t drink the milk). The SCC of milk will also be high after calving, when colostrum is produced (i.e.  not sick a cow… a mama cow). Apparently, it is not uncommon for farmers to have their “house cow”… the one they consume raw milk from, tested up to 4 times a year.

One of the most remarkable things I found out about the Ecological Farmers of Ontario Association (EFOA) is their referral program. It is a program offered to members…  and could be described as farmer to farmer advice.  As a member of EFOA you can call/write/email and ask a question about a farming issue, or simply seek advice. The EFOA will refer a query to a member/farmer who has encountered a similar issue and possibly propose a solution. What a great resource.